Living in the waters of the Atlantic coast, a prehistoric animal has played a key role in the fight against COVID-19.
The horseshoe crab is essential to the safety of human vaccines because its blood contains cells that the biomedical industry uses to test vaccines – including coronavirus injections – to make sure they are not contaminated with bacteria.
They have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Having survived the dinosaurs, horseshoe crabs face their ultimate challenge: humans. Habitat loss and overexploitation means that horseshoe crabs are now threatened with extinction.
“They haven’t changed in 450 million years,” says Laurel Sullivan, coastal programs education coordinator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “
But the discovery of their life-saving properties gave birth to a huge industry. Over half a million are caught each year along the eastern seaboards of the United States.
Nonetheless, experts remain hopeful for the future of this life-saving living fossil.
“I think they’ll get through this and survive,” says Glenn Gauvry, president of the ecological research and development group.
“Other test methods are being developed for medicine and anglers can use other baits. This way the animals are under less pressure.”